AT&T, Time Warner Merger Cleared

Courts To M&A Bankers “Everbody Gets Laid!”

United States district judge Richard Leon dismissed the antitrust case brought by the justice department last November, the culmination of a 20-month ordeal that has seen the deal attacked by Donald Trump, critics of media consolidation and consumer groups. The Justice Department could decide to appeal the ruling, however. Comcast, which had earlier bid for the Fox assets but lost out to Disney, is expected to renew its pursuit now that AT&T has won.

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson argued the company's proposed $85.4 billion takeover of Time Warner is necessary to compete against companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The company will now work to complete the merger by June 20th.

The AT&T-Time Warner antitrust trial finally has a ruling after the trial ended last month. AT&T has been the nation's largest pay-TV company since it acquired DirecTV in 2015, and is one of the largest providers of home and mobile broadband service.

Outside of court, however, critics of the lawsuit pointed to Trump's frequent criticism of CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.

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The merger will consolidate AT&T's telecommunications services with Time Warner's content, which includes some of the biggest names in media like HBO, CNN, and sports broadcasts from the National Basketball Association and NCAA. As Gigi Sohn, a former top aide to the Federal Communications Commission chairman under President Obama, put it during the trial, "If we return to a place where. there's a presumption that big is bad - bad for democracy, bad for consumers - I think that's a good place for antitrust law and antitrust enforcement to be". The Justice Department sued to block the deal from going through in November of 2017, arguing that it would limit competition and raise prices.

"AT&T/DirecTV would hinder its rivals by forcing them to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for Time Warner's networks, and it would use its increased power to slow the industry's transition to new and exciting video distribution models that provide greater choice for consumers", the DOJ said in its complaint. President Donald Trump, while still a candidate, said he would block the deal "because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few". Specifically, on future deals of this type.

AT&T and Time Warner dismissed the government's concerns.

Gene Kimmelman, a former DOJ antitrust official who now leads the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, told the Washington Post that if the government lost the case, "they'll face an avalanche of new transactions". With no phones or computers allowed into the courtroom, and attendees required to stay until after the judge had left the courtroom, the public was left in the dark for almost 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon as they awaited the decision. Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, who heads up the antitrust division, said in a statement that he was disappointed in the court's decision and he reiterated the government's belief that the merger will harm consumers. The favorable decision, in a rebuke of the Justice Department's case opposing the deal, is viewed as a green light for other major M&A moves - and several scenarios are already in play.

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